Book Review: In the Beginning – By Henri Blocher

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Letter TThe opening chapters of Genesis have likely had more written about them than most any other section of the Bible. Especially in the modern world the question of how to interpret these chapters is seen as especially pressing in the light of claims that the theories of science call into question and influence how they should be read.

In his book In the Beginning Henri Blocher offers a fairly in-depth analysis of the first three chapters of Genesis (with a short chapter surveying chapters 4-11 at the end). This analysis is not primarily a technical breakdown of the grammar and syntax of the chapters nor an interaction with the ancient Near Eastern context. Rather it is a commentary on the major themes of the chapters which seeks to weigh varying interpretations and offer an internally and biblically consistent vision of not only what is going on at the beginning of Genesis but also what lessons should be gleaned.

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Luther’s Other Reformation

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Letter TThe Protestant Reformation is without a doubt one of the most significant events in history. Even non-Christian scholars can agree that the Reformation had a profound political and philosophical impact on the Western world. For Christians the import of this event is most squarely set around the theological and ecclesiastical revolutions which took place and are perhaps best exemplified in the five solas.

Yet often obscured behind the theological and societal watershed that was the Reformation is another reformation almost as widespread and long-reaching in its impact. This was Luther’s – albeit unintentional – reformation of marriage.

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Book Review: God’s Rivals – By Gerald R. McDermott

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letter-eEver since the world began to be truly globalized the question of other religions has been brought to the forefront of modern thought. The question is not new by any means but whereas in previous ages other religions could be dismissed as things only existing in some faraway land, today we meet and interact with those of other religions every day.

For Christians – who ascribe to the sovereignty and exclusivity of God as the creator and sustainer of the world and history – this question can be particularly pressing. McDermott‘s book God’s Rivals is an attempt to explain the phenomena of other religions from a Christian perspective with special focus on insights gained from the Bible and from early church fathers.

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Book Review: The Lost World of Genesis One – By John H. Walton

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Letter TPerhaps there is no topic more widely and hotly debated in the past century of Christianity – and especially in the past few decades – is that of creation and evolution as it relates to Genesis.

The Lost World of Genesis One is one of John H. Walton‘s multiple contributions to this discussion. This is a work which according to Walton serves to be faithful to the original context and to not only preserve but enhance the theological vitality of the text.

Central to Walton’s approach to Genesis 1 is an understanding that while the text does communicate to us and was written for all of humankind, it is not directly written to us, but to Israel; there is a barrier of sorts separating 21st century Western American and European cultures from that of the ancient Israelites). Because of this it is not only the language that needs to be translated but also the culture. While the key to translating certain ancient languages might have been the Rosetta Stone, for Walton the key to translating this ancient culture is the literature from the rest of the ancient world (noting that there are bound to be both similarities and differences).

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Book Review: Eragon – By Christopher Paolini

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letter-oOver the past few months I’ve been attempting to read more fiction: Asimov‘s The End of Eternity, Zelazny‘s Lord of Light, Robert Jordan‘s The Great Hunt and R. Scott Bakker‘s Prince of Nothing; all have been thoroughly enjoyable. Most recently I picked up a copy of Chistopher Paolini‘s Eragon from the bookstore. This was a change of pace, but I have no problem with young adult and children’s fantasy.

The story of the book is fairly standard in the vein of young adult fantasy. A young boy from a rural village finds something that gets him involved in a world grander than he could have ever imagined. In this case that thing is a dragon egg which has chosen to hatch for the titular character, Eragon.

[Warning: Spoilers Ahead]

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Book Review: The Call – By Os Guinness

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Letter TThis book has been sitting on my shelf for about three or four years. I had expected it to be rather trite and boring fluff. I was glad to have been proven wrong.

Every person has the desire to know that they are fulfilling their purpose in life; The Call, as the subtitle suggests, is about finding and fulfilling that central purpose. ‘Calling’ – in the context used by Guinness – is the specific purpose for which we were created: “calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service” (p4). It is in this calling, this purpose, that we find our identities.

Once the foundational idea of calling and its importance is laid Guinness proceeds to unpack the various aspects of calling: our primary calling is as followers of Christ, our secondary calling is to live, think, speak, and act for God as our sovereign. It is this secondary calling which – according to Guinness – comprises our specific ‘vocation’ (a teacher, lawyer, construction worker, etc), what Guinness calls “our personal answer to God’s address” (p31).

When viewed through this lens our calling gives us meaning, meaning which mere work or a mere job cannot. Despite referring to lines of work as ‘secondary callings’, Guinness pushes back against equating work with vocation, noting that “slowly such words as work, trade, employment, and occupation came to be used interchangeably with calling and vocation… The original demand that each Christian should have a calling was boiled down to the demand that each citizen should have a job” (p40). Guinness chief issue seems to be that secondary callings took center stage over the primary calling [to follow Christ]. He thereby seeks to counter the Protestant distortion of making the secondary calling primary and the Catholic distortion of confining calling only to the clergy.

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Book Review: The Unseen Realm – By Michael S. Heiser

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Letter IIf there is one great noteworthy trend going on right now in the realm of biblical scholarship it is the turn towards attempting to re-read the Scriptures in their original context. In the 21st century there are many layers of cultural filters that lay between us and the text; Michael Heiser is one of the scholars working to help peel back those layers and give us a better understanding of what the words of the bible meant to those who originally wrote and read them.Mugatu-So-Hot-Right-Now-ANE.png

The Unseen Realm is revolutionary in a certain sense – in the sense that G.K. Chesterton used the term – that “a revolution is a restoration.” In this work Dr. Heiser sets out to restore the supernatural worldview of biblical writers, a worldview which has since been watered down, diluted, and at times totally done away with either due to our post-Enlightenment mindset or due to our simple ignorance of ancient near eastern patterns of thought.

The specific goal of Heiser’s book is to explain the notion of “the divine council.” This is the idea that when the bible speaks of God’s “divine council” (Psalm 82), the “host of heaven” (1 Kings 22), the plural uses of elohim in Genesis, references to the gods of other nations, etc, these are all references to actual spiritual beings whom God has given some measure of authority beneath himself.

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Book Review: Destroyer of the gods – By Larry Hurtado

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Letter TTwo-thousand years after the birth of Christ, the missionary work of Paul, and a small movement within Judaism spreading throughout the Roman Empire, it can be easy to forget that during the years of its inception Christianity was a radically new and unheard of approach to religion, to ethics, and to the question of gods and God in general.

In his book Destroyer of the gods Larry Hurtado highlights some of the features that made early Christianity so distinctive, unprecedented, and indeed, nearly inconceivable for many at the time. These are features that are widely assumed as part and parcel to religion by many today, yet which at the time caused Christians to be viewed by outsiders as impious, irreligious, and a threat to social order. As Hurtado says, “This book addresses our cultural amnesia.”

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“The Bible was WRONG”… or Not; Religious Illiteracy in West Reaches New Low

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Letter IImagine for a moment being told that your history book is wrong because archaeologists digging in Georgia have discovered evidence that the United States previously allowed slavery. You would rightly scratch your head, because anybody who knows anything about U.S. history knows that slavery has always been one of its defining features. A similar scenario recently played out in headlines across the web.

As background, the above painting is an oil on canvas by the eighteenth century French painter Jean-Germain Drouais. It currently hangs at the Louvre in Paris and is entitled ‘The Woman of Canaan at the Feet of Christ.’

For anyone who’s been paying attention to the recent headlines this painting should come as quite a shock. Sources from USA Today to The Telegraph and Science and Daily Mail all rushed to the presses in recent weeks to report that “The Bible was WRONG,” “DNA vs the Bible,“The Bible got in wrong,” “New DNA study casts doubt on Bible claim,” “Was The Bible Wrong?,” amongst others.

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Book Review: Homosexuality – The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate; By Stanton L. Jones & Mark A. Yarhouse

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Letter TThe topic of homosexuality has been discussed from a variety of angles from within the Christian context. Some scholars seek to address the ancient near-Eastern and Greco-Roman contexts in which the Scriptures were written to best understand their injunctions, others attempt to deal directly with and exegete the Biblical texts.

The goal of Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse in their book here is to analyze how the most recent scientific research effects the Christian moral debate around homosexuality. To be clear, the book is not written to answer the question of whether homosexual actions are immoral in light of science, the authors begin from the assumption that it is. The goal is rather to show that “while science provides us with many interesting and useful perspectives on sexual orientation and behavior, the best science of this day fails to persuade the thoughtful Christian to change his or her moral stance.”(p.13) The goal is to answer the question of how research on homosexuality should inform the Christian understanding of homosexuality.

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